Sunday, August 22, 2010

"I'll pray for you."

We know we've got a real problem when a phrase like that has become--at least in pop culture portrayals--a sign of condescension.

The majority of the time, it isn' is a sincerely-spoken phrase, out of genuine compassion for a person and whatever difficult or painful situation they may be going through. We know as well that prayer is also at times something like a weapon, a powerful force God allows us to take part in, against the forces of darkness. But sometimes, we choose to wield the wrong kind of power.

"Prayer" as an offensive weapon has been with us for thousands of years...a perversion of what should be a healing act. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) is one of the clearest examples of this: the Pharisee gives a prayer of "thanks" that he is not like the sinful man sharing the room with him. In other words, in the act of prayer he is attempting to prop himself up at someone else's expense!

What right do we have to prop ourselves up at anyone else's expense, when we too are guilty--as C.S. Lewis put it (I paraphrase)--of high treason against the Almighty?

We might not express our inner hearts in public as blatantly as the Pharisee of the parable did, but when a Christian ends an argument with someone whose behavior or belief they disagree with with the words, "I'll pray for you," the tone is sometimes quite unkind. I know I've had it directed to me after expressing an opinion that someone disagreed with...and it very much struck me as an assertion of superiority rather than a blessing.

I don't think we should shy away from offering prayer. But I think we might do better to think of ourselves as prayer servants: when we undertake to pray for someone. It is no accident that we often kneel to is a humbling act. It is not a tool for stoking feelings of superiority, and conveying such an attitude towards others. When we do volunteer prayer, we need to make sure to do it lovingly, and with a servant's heart. Other times--and we should rely on the Holy Spirit for discernment here--it may be best to pray quietly.

But whatever we do, prayer should be an act of servitude. That does not stop it from being a powerful weapon against evil...indeed, it is by serving in accordance with God's ways that it really means something.

And with that as a guide, I believe we can pray in a manner that truly will heal hearts.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Miracle I Can Understand

One thing I will never understand is the mindset that a phenomenon, once explained by science, somehow becomes stripped of its beauty and miraculous nature, a view famously summed up by William Wordsworth when he said, "We murder to dissect." Yet the more I have read about the natural sciences, the more I have observed nature, the more its wonder increases in my eyes. And the more I come to appreciate the depth and degree of God's artistry. The fact that I learn about the scientific principles behind those acts of creation takes nothing away from that...indeed, I am even more amazed.

This is an area where I feel both many Christians and non-believers have a misconception. The suggestion here is that to explain a natural phenomenon is to somehow divorce it from God. This mentality leads to the idea of a "God of the gaps"--that is, that God is only responsible for and active in those areas where we have no explanations...yet. And as we keep discovering more, under such a theory the role of God is rolled further and further back. For an atheist, the implication is that God will eventually be squeezed out (or boxed into a near-infinitesimally small corner grossly unbefitting of His description as an omnipotent deity). For Christians, the risk we run is that we will only recognize as a "miracle" that which seems to contravene ordinary experience and even common sense. We may even risk susceptibility to fakes because of a desire to see something that seems to flagrantly violate the laws of nature.

That is not to say that there cannot be miracles that do circumvent, accelerate, or reverse natural processes, that it can never happen. They do. But how is it that we can't recognize things according to their natural, designed working order as miracles too?

I am one of those who believes that what science describes is indeed accurate. And I see God's hand in it all of the billions of years and the indescribable multitudes of subatomic particles. And to think that all of that, over such unimaginable spans of time, had to go into designing each and every one of us individually, and everything around is awe-inspiring, and faith-inspiring!

The one who was in the incredibly difficult position, thousands of years ago, of having to render the vision I believe they truly had of the Creation in terms that were available in the world at that time, so that they could convey it to those around them, could not be expected to do so as though they were writing a 21st-century science book. Why should we expect that? I do not say this to diminish the skill, intelligence, or the divine inspiration of the individual who received this vision to transcribe into what we now know as Genesis. I think the fact that we got the beautiful and poetic glimpse that we did is remarkable enough, and I haven't seen anything like it in any other creation story outside of the Bible.

But we dare not dismiss Genesis and specifically the Creation, because of the time in which it was written. For there is something science can't tell us. It cannot tell us who created us, or why, it cannot assign a purpose to our lives, and it cannot determine whether the possibilities it illuminates should or should not be pursued and under what circumstances, beyond simple things such as, "If you throw magnesium in water, it's going to explode." So we've established that said reaction is explosive. That's great, but being explosive in and of itself is a neutral. The appropriateness of actually doing it is an entirely different matter. Now, whether or not to blow up magnesium may seem like a simple thing ("don't do it where people can get hurt" would be a pretty sensible guideline), but if you apply this same principle to more complex matters, it becomes clear that science in and of itself can't tell us whether we should do a thing that we have discovered we could do.

In Genesis (and the rest of the Bible), the identity of our Creator and His reasons for creating, and how we should relate to that Creation are laid bare for us to see and to take into our very beings. We, like Adam, continue to name the phenomena around us, living and nonliving, with greater and greater specificity. But the naming and the understanding, even the direct observation--just as it was when Adam was the first to speak names for the animals around him--does nothing to diminish the fact that these things are miracles. We have eyes to see nature as never before...if only we would observe it in all of its facets, with our minds, our hearts, our bodies, and our souls--and recognize the signature and the reflection of God imbued in every inch of it.

This is, and will always be, a miracle.